Great food, ugly plates

I never had a chance to sup at La Table Francaise when it was open, but now that the 4th St Bistro has taken over its location, I definitely have a reason to make it out to this desolate stretch of West Fourth Street.

For starters, Cat and I split the sizzling Moroccan sea scallops with preserved lemon butter, garlic and chilies ($9). In the hands of a lesser chef, scallops can be ruined, but these were cooked just to the point of perfection.

One curious thing, though, was the restaurant’s choice to slice the french bread so thin that I could barely break off a piece adequate to sop up the succulent garlic-and-lemon-laden juices without the bread crumbling in my hand. My kingdom for a chunk of bread.

Our salads looked pretty much alike, with an arugula and radicchio base and a light sherry vinaigrette that complemented but didn’t overpower. My salad, a special, had pomegranate seeds, persimmon and goat cheese ($8), whereas Cat’s had pear, bleu cheese and candied walnuts ($8). Both were fresh and well-presented but unremarkable.

My entrée, the grilled mahi-mahi special, was served over creamy polenta and accompanied by a ratatouille ($20). Although the fish itself was rather bland and slightly overcooked, the polenta had a rich, risotto-like texture, and the ratatouille had a spicy kick. Unfortunately, the chrome-yellow plate on which my entrée was served demanded far too much attention. It was distracting and overbearing.

Cat, a dedicated carnivore, chose the rosemary-braised Niman Ranch lamb shank with cannellini beans, wilted spinach and mint gremolata ($23). The lamb, nearly falling off the bone, was beautifully seasoned, and its flavor was well-complemented by its accompaniments. Although Cat’s dish came on a hunting-themed platter, which was appropriate for the ample joint of meat on the plate, the presentation was, once again, muddied by the plate.

Everything about the 4th St Bistro says casual elegance—except these fussy plates! The patterned ones remind me of dinner at my grandma’s house. Apparently, a good part of the china was acquired from La Table Francaise. The salads, entrees and desserts looked fantastic in their own right. It was a shame such well-crafted food was forced to compete with these plates.

I found the waitstaff pleasant, attentive and well-timed, though a bit stiff in a rehearsed sort of way. While their starched white uniforms gave them a nice, crisp look, their manner seemed overly coached in its formality.

For dessert, I settled on the creme caramel with coconut-sesame cookies ($6)—rich, creamy and very satisfying. Cat’s Scharffen Berger bittersweet-chocolate ganache torte with a pecan crust and caramel sauce ($6), a veritable hunk of glorious chocolate, is reason enough to visit the 4th St Bistro. Oh, baby!

I found the 4th St Bistro to be a terrific addition to Reno’s restaurant landscape. It was refreshing to sit at a window table and see a stretch of the Truckee River and the occasional train rolling down the tracks. The restaurant has a warm, intimate ambiance—though it seems lost somewhere between formal dining and stylish bistro.

On a final note: The front door of the 4th St Bistro looked as if it belonged on somebody’s house, which didn’t make me feel drawn into the restaurant. It was a bit confusing, a fact that was highlighted when Cat and I actually heard someone knock on the front door while we were sitting at the bar before dinner.

My suggestions: Relax the waitstaff, put a window in that front door and change the plates.